24 Diner: All diner, no chrome

Do you ever drive by a place several times over the course of, oh, years, and say, "I really need to go there," and then just…. don't? I have a few places like that, but Friday when my mom and I drove past 24 Diner, located at 600 N. Lamar Blvd in 78703 AGAIN, I said out loud, "We really need go there." I said it for, what I hoped, would be the last time. There was NO WAY we'd dine anywhere else that day.

After a few exciting hours of wedding dress shopping at Julian Gold (OMG…) we had both worked up some pretty amazing appetites. 24 Diner time!

Here's the deal. As some of you may know, I grew up in the diner capitol of the world: New Jersey. There were diners on pretty much every corner. I remember going to The Silver Diner in Cherry Hill, or Olga's Diner in Marlton after church every Sunday. I fell in love with the shiny, silver exteriors, the large rotating signs, the sticky menus and plush carpeted floors. I especially loved it when my mom or dad would slide me a shiny nickel and I could pick out any song I wanted on the table-top juke boxes. I love diners. 24 Diner is a bit different though. They left out all the standard diner stuff: fluorescent lights, chrome, carpet, sticky menus and juke-boxes. What they did though, is something pretty dang special.

We stepped out of the cold, rainy evening, and into the warm, energetic and beautifully modern diner. We were greeted by our hostess and quickly seated at a table near the bar and semi-open kitchen. We were left to soak it all in, and go over the menu. Before even looking at the one page, double sided menu full of elevated diner classics, my mom and I both looked around and agreed that the atmosphere of the diner was wonderful. It managed to combine both the clean lines and open spaces of modern architecture, and the real casual warmth found in a more traditional diner. We were happy.

We became even happier once we took a few moments to go over the menu. 24 Diner, like every good diner should, serves breakfast 24 hours a day, every day of the week, but this wasn't your average, run-of-the-mill diner food. No sir.

These breakfast dishes were taken to a whole new level, complete with house-made sauces, breads and locally sourced meats and veggies. The whole menu is farm-to-table and I felt that surge of excitement course through my blood as I read the descriptions of dishes like their hash, House-cut Idaho Burbank potatoes; Beeler’s all natural, never ever, nitrate-free pork; Premium Gold Angus never ever, natural beef; house-made sausage. Hash is set with two eggs runny, made with onions & jalapeños, & served with choice of toast with varieties for $11.95 - $12.95 and Chicken & Waffles, marinated, boneless, skinless fried chicken breast & thigh, brown sugar butter, $13.95. Wow.

I flipped the menu over to see the non-breakfast selections and that's when the drool began to flow freely. There are 11 different burgers, a variety of sandwiches, comfort food classics, and home-made desserts. I was SO happy we didn't pass by 24 diner for the millionth time, and I could tell by the smile on my mom's face as she read the menu, that she was happy too.

We went back and forth on what we'd order, but finally settled on the Mussles with charred onions, garlic, smoked paprika, lemon, fregola, green onions, dry sherry to share ($9.95), the Chopped Salad with romaine, smoked turkey, chicken, country ham, egg, bacon, avocado, Gorgonzola, cherry tomatoes, croutons, buttermilk dressing for my mom ($13.95), and the Reuben Sandwich on rye, with coffee-rubbed smoked pastrami, Gruyère, sauerkraut, 1000 island with a side salad for me ($13.95). I love Reubens and whenever there's a Reuben on the menu, I never pass it up. But… I HAD to try their Chicken & Waffles, since that's what they're known for over at the 24 Diner. So, I ordered that too...

After a decent wait where my mom and I busied ourselves with a plate of toasted and sliced, home-made baguette with drool-worthy berry jam, laughed and enjoyed the warmth of the packed dining space, we were presented with our mussels.

Now, I've been on a mussel kick lately. I've enjoyed traditional mussels from Bordeaux's in Kyle, and sweet and spicy mussels at Sway but what I saw in front of me did not resemble the dishes from the other establishments.

These mussels were huge, and sat in a sauce that was deep red and seriously aromatic. The mussels were plump and creamy, and soaked up the warm, pungent and earthy sauce. The onions and garlic together with the lemon and sherry created a whole new flavor profile that was both well balanced and exciting.

Then there were the pearls of awesome. I had never heard of fregola before, and when I ordered the mussels, I didn't really take into consideration that there was an ingredient that I'd never seen or uttered in my life. Here's to new experiences, right? Basically, fregola is a type of pasta that usually consists of semolina dough that has been rolled into mini-pearls, then tossed into the oven. They are traditionally paired with clams in a tomato-based sauce, so to see them in this mussel dish with the delicious deep red and aromatic red sauce, wasn't too far off custom. My mom and I made short order of this meaty mussel dish, and still talk about it three days later.

Our super attentive and ultra-knowledgeable waitress returned, as if on queue, with my mom's salad and my sandwich plate. The first thing I noticed was how fresh everything looked.

My mom's cobb salad was stunning. The lettuce was bright green and looked perfectly crisp. The other ingredients were beautifully arranged in the deep white bowl, and just screamed deliciousness.

My salad mirrored my mom's in freshness. It was perfectly dressed with roasted shallot vinaigrette, but my sandwich… OH my sandwich. This was a thing of just pure seductive appeal.

The salty cheese was melty and the sauerkraut was crisp. The very obviously home-made thousand-island dressing was creamy, sharp and divine. The meat though, was a whole different story.

This pastrami, simply put, was the best pastrami I've ever had, and I've had a lot in my 27 years. It was peppery, smokey, spicy and warm with a seriously amazing crust.

The taste was insane and I'll say it: it was to-die-for.

It was also house-cured. That's right - they make their own pastarmi over at 24 Diner, and it shows. I am literally drooling as I write this.

My mom and I loved our dishes, and our whole experience at 24 Diner, but it wasn't quite over. I still had to taste the Chicken & Waffles. I didn't know if I could do it, since I decimated my sandwich and salad, but for the sake of journalism…

When our waitress presented me with my ENORMOUS plate, complete with a huge waffle made from yeast-risen dough with butter, Madagascar vanilla & raw sugar topped with five pieces of marinated, boneless, skinless fried chicken and brown sugar butter. On appearance alone, I was happy. But the taste would be the ultimate test.

I tried the two elements separately, and started with the waffle. I fell in love with this waffle. After reading several scathing remarks on Yelp! about the waffles they serve over at 24 Diner, I can say that I don't agree. At all. The negative reviews basically complained that the waffles were disappointing. The grumblings focused on how the flavor isn't sweet enough, the exterior isn't crisp enough and that the interior isn't fluffy or airy enough. It's almost like people expected a Belgian waffle, but a Belgian waffle this is not.

I loved the dense, tangy, semi-sweet waffle. It had a wonderful chew that I couldn't get enough of, and when paired with the brown sugar butter and warm light amber Vermont maple syrup that comes on the side, what you get is something lip-smacking good. I'd never had a waffle that wasn't really just a pancake with grids. This was a whole different beast. It was something special.

I wasn't as thrilled about the chicken, though. It wasn't crispy at all, and the flavor wasn't spectacular, but it was good. The meat was juicy but not wildly tender. The breading was kind of bland but combined with a slice of waffle, a dash of hot sauce and a small dash of the light amber syrup, it was a delicious combination.

I'm not going to lie, it wasn't the best chicken & waffles I've ever had, but it was pretty delicious. After 4 bites too many, I put the chicken pieces and the waffle in a to-go container to take home with me to enjoy later. Which I did. The waffle was almost as good as it was Friday night, and the chicken held up well.

Our experience at 24 Diner was a good one, and I am more than happy that we FINALLY stepped through those doors into the diner that dark and stormy afternoon. I will for sure be back, not just for the best Reuben ever, but I require those mussels again in the near future.

Who's been to 24 Diner? What'd you think? Do you side with the Yelpers or with little old me?

1 comment:

  1. I'm a Jersey transplant too! Thanks for the heads up about this place!


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